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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Lamb

The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
This series continues with the country of Algeria.

Algeria is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea and this fertile northern region is home to the olive and cork trees. Fig, agave, and various palm trees grow in the warmer areas. Central Algeria consists of the High Plateaus that contain salt marshes and shallow salt lakes. The land becomes more arid the farther south one travels, eventually becoming the Sahara Desert. Roughly 80 percent of the country is desert and camels are widely used for transportation. The coastal region has a typical Mediterranean climate—pleasant nearly year round, with winter temperatures rarely falling below freezing (32°F). Rainfall is also abundant along the coast. Farther inland, higher altitudes receive considerable frost and occasional snow. Little or no rainfall occurs throughout the summer months in this region. In the Sahara Desert, rainfall is unpredictable and unevenly distributed.

Algerian food is a mix of various influences, from Berber to Arabic to French to Jewish. Most cooking is centered around spicy couscous which is served with long-simmered meats and stews. Algerian meals are often finished with dates and fresh fruit. Algerian ingredients are essentially Mediterranean, including lamb, chicken, tomatoes, olives, peppers, eggplant, lentils, oranges and lemons. Spicy Algerian merguez sausage is famous around the world.

Algerian cuisine traces its roots to various countries and ancient cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Berber tribesmen were one of the country’s earliest inhabitants. Their arrival, which extends as far back as 30,000 B.C., marked the beginning of wheat cultivation, smen (aged, cooked butter), and fruit consumption, such as dates. The introduction of semolina wheat by the Carthaginians (who occupied much of northern Africa) led the Algeria Berbers to first create couscous, Algeria’s national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon from the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Islam continues to influence almost every aspect of an Algerian life, including the diet.

Olives (and olive oil) and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine.

In the early 1800s, Algerians were forced to surrender their farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including bread and sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian with the French language being the country’s second language.

Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and chilies were brought over from the New World.

Sources: WHATS4EATS INTERNATIONAL RECIPES AND COOKING AROUND THE WORLD and Food in Every Country

Chakchouka is a traditional Algerian dish that’s mainly eaten for breakfast. Traditionally, the main ingredients in Chakchouka include sautéed onions, tomatoes and various spices topped with a few eggs. This meal is served with a side of bread, pita or rice.

NORTH AFRICAN EGGS POACHED IN A PEPPER RAGOUT

4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil — 3 tablespoons
Paprika — 1 to 2 tablespoons
Onion, thinly sliced — 1
Garlic, minced — 2 to 3 cloves
Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced — 3
Green and red bell peppers, diced — 2 to 3
Water — 1 cup
Salt and pepper — to taste
Eggs (optional) — 4

METHOD
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Stir in the paprika and cook slightly to color the oil, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce down a little bit. Add the peppers, water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep it from drying out.
Using a spoon, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. One by one, crack the eggs into a small bowl and slip each from the bowl into an indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.

CHAKCHOUKA VARIATIONS
Add 1 teaspoon of cumin seed to the hot oil for about 15 seconds before you add the paprika. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground coriander along with the onions.
For a little spice, sauté 1 tablespoon of harissa paste or a minced chile pepper with the onions.
Sometimes fresh shrimp or a spicy lamb sausage called merguez is added to the simmering peppers along with the eggs.
Add 1 small, diced eggplant along with the peppers.
Add 1 potato, cut in a small dice, along with the peppers.
Sprinkle the top of the cooked dish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Add a few olives and capers and eliminate the eggs. Chill and serve garnished with hard-boiled eggs or tuna.

Couscous is considered the national dish of Algeria, This dish is composed of small pellets of steamed semolina pasta topped with meat, vegetables, and various spices. In Algeria, the most popular meat and vegetable accompaniments for this meal include chicken, carrots, and chickpeas. Although a rather simple dish, Couscous offers considerable freedom in its selection of ingredients.

NORTH AFRICAN STEAMED PASTA GRAINS

4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

Couscous — 2 cups
Salt — 1/2 teaspoon
Boiling water or stock — 2 cups

METHOD
Mix the couscous and salt together in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water or stock over into the bowl all at once and stir in well.
Cover the bowl with a tight-fitting lid or with plastic wrap and set aside for about 10 to 15 minutes to steam.
Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil if you like.

Harira is a traditional North African soup and recipes for this dish vary from region to region but in Algeria, Harira is often composed of lamb simmered with vegetables, spices, and herbs.

NORTH AFRICAN LAMB AND CHICKPEA STEW

6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil or butter — 1/4 cup
Lamb, cubed for stews — 1 pound
Onion, chopped — 1 large
Celery, chopped — 2 stalks
Turmeric — 1 teaspoon
Cinnamon — 1 teaspoon
Ground ginger — 1/2 teaspoon
Nutmeg — 1/4 teaspoon
Saffron — big pinch
Tomatoes, chopped — 2 cups
Water or stock — 2 quarts
Chickpeas, cooked and drained — 2 cups
Lentils — 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper — to taste
Cilantro, chopped — 1/2 cup
Parsley, chopped — 1/2 cup
Lemons, cut into wedges — 2

METHOD
Heat the oil or butter in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and celery. Sauté until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the spices and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the stock and return the meat to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, lentils, salt, and pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the lentils cooked through and tender.
Adjust seasoning, stir in the cilantro and parsley and serve with lemon wedges for each diner to squeeze into their stew as desired.

HARIRA VARIATIONS
Meats: Substitute cubed chicken or beef for the lamb. Or eliminate the meat altogether for a vegetarian version.
Sometimes 2 or 3 beaten eggs are stirred into the stew at the end to make ribbons of egg in the broth.
Add 1 cup soup pasta toward the end. Or add 1 cup of rice along with the lentils. You may need to add a little more water.

 

Mechoui comes from an Arabic word meaning “roast on a fire,” and like its namesake, the meal is prepared in much the same way. This dish is composed of meat spiced and roasted over a fire that is usually served at large gatherings. In the Algerian variation, the meat is roasted on a spit giving the meat a crispy, grilled flavor.

NORTH AFRICAN SPIT-ROASTED LAMB

6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

Leg of lamb — 1 whole
Olive oil — 1/3 cup
Garlic, minced — 8 cloves
Paprika — 2 tablespoons
Coriander — 2 tablespoons
Cumin — 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper — to season
Unsalted butter, melted — 6 tablespoons

METHOD
Trim any excess fat from the lamb, but leave enough to protect and moisten the meat. Mix the olive oil with the garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper and rub this mixture all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Set up the rotisserie (in front of the fire, not over it) and rotate the spit slowly for 4 to 5 hours, or until all the meat is cooked through, moist and tender. Salt the meat from time to time and baste it periodically with melted butter to encourage a crispy skin. Remove the spit from the fire and let the meat rest. Then use clean hands to remove the meat from the bones and onto serving platters.
Or
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the leg of lamb on a rack in a roasting pan big enough to fit it. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Set the pan in the oven and roast for 4 to 5 hours, or until the meat is cooked through and starting to fall off the bone.
Increase oven temperature to 450°F. Remove foil and return pan to oven. Roast for another 15 to 30 minutes, basting every 5 minutes or so with the melted butter until the surface of the lamb is browned and crisp. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for around 30 minutes.
Remove the lamb to a serving platter. Strain any pan juices into a bowl or gravy boat and serve on the side. Serve with bread or couscous and a simple salad. Diners can help themselves to the meat by pinching off portions from the platter.

MÉCHOUI VARIATIONS
North African Spice Blend: For a more complex flavor, add a spoonful of ras el hanout spice blend to the paprika, coriander, and cumin listed above.

Makroud is a traditional Algerian dessert. This pastry is composed of a date or almond stuffing and dipped in a sugar syrup or honey. Makroud are also eaten with coffee for breakfast. They will keep for over a month stored in a well-sealed container.

ALGERIAN ALMOND COOKIES

Makes 20 to 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS

Almonds, whole, blanched — 1 1/4 pound
Sugar — 1 cup
Eggs, beaten lightly — 2
Water — 2 cups
Sugar — 1/2 cup
Orange flower water — 1 tablespoon
Powdered (confectioners) sugar — 3 cups

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the almonds and sugar in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely pulverized. Remove to a bowl.
Make a well in the center of the almonds and stir in the eggs with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together. Then knead the dough with clean hands until smooth.
Cut the dough into 4 equal portions and remove to a floured work surface. Roll one portion out into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter. Press down with your palm to flatten the rope to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the rope on a diagonal into 1-inch pieces and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake cookies for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned on top. Remove to racks and cool completely.
While the cookies bake, bring the water and 1/2 cup sugar to a rapid boil in a saucepan over high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar and let boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Stir in the orange flower water.
Put powdered sugar in a large bowl. To finish, dip each cookie first in the sugar syrup to moisten. Then toss each cookie in the confectioner’s sugar to coat well. Shake off the extra sugar, place on a rack to dry and repeat with the rest of the cookies.

MAKROUD VARIATIONS
Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest to the almond dough.
If you are unable to find orange flower water to flavor the syrup, try using 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.

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Grilled Lamb Chops For Dinner

2 servings

Ingredients

4 loin lamb chops

Marinade

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced.
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a ziplock bag and place the bag in the refrigerator for several hours.
Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.
Place the lamb on the grill and cook 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving platter and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Stuffed Mushrooms

2 servings

Ingredients

8 large mushroom caps, stems removed
Olive oil

Filling

1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place 2-3 slices of firm bread in the processor and pulse until crumbs form. Combine the crumbs the remaining filling ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stuff the caps with the mixture and place them in a small, oiled baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the mushrooms for 20 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown.

Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto

Ingredients

1 bunch thin asparagus spears (about 20-21 spears)
10 very thin slices Prosciutto de Palma
Olive oil
Coarse black pepper

Directions

Bundle 4 asparagus together and wrap each in two slices of prosciutto. Place the bundles on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle the prosciutto wrapped spears with olive oil and black pepper. Roast in a 425 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes.


Mediterranean Syria

The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. This series continues with the country of Syria.

Burj Safita (AKA Chastel Blanc), a landmark in the town of Safita

Think Mediterranean diet and Italian and Greek food comes to mind. But the Mediterranean coastline spans thousands more miles throughout the Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. The Middle Eastern Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and red wine. However, it also offers delicious and different flavors not found in southern European food, such as unique spices, tangy fruits and healthy seeds, some of which include pomegranate juice, mint, sesame and yogurt.

Beach in Latakia

Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb, mutton and poultry), dairy products, bulgur, sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, wheat flour, pine nuts, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, grape leaves, pickled turnips or cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a spice mixture called “baharat mushakkaleh” (Arabic: بهارات مشكّلة‎‎), hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and fruits.

One of the many highlights of Syrian food is mezza, the tapas of the Middle East. Mezza refers to a generous spread of small dishes, mostly eaten without cutlery, using flat bread, lettuce or grape leaves to scoop up dips or to wrap portions of salad. Baba ghanouj and hummus, both well-known in the West, are key elements of a traditional mezza. Another favorite in Syria is muhammara, a spicy pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses. Salads include tabbouleh, a parsley and bulgur mix; fattoush, a crunchy cucumber, radish, tomato and herb salad topped with toasted pita; and fateh, a salad with chickpeas, yogurt, tahini and garlic. Other finger foods include baked pastries filled with meat and spices called sambusic or spinach and baked lamb pies called sfeeha. Kibbeh is the national dish and comes in many varieties with the core element being cracked wheat and fresh ground lamb or beef that is seasoned with spices.

For Syrians, presentation is everything. Making the food look appetizing and setting the table appropriately are very important. Everything, even the simplest dishes, are garnished with fresh herbs.

Syrian Recipes To Make At Home

Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Adapted from a recipe from Mary Sanom

Ingredients

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef
1 lb. long grain white rice, uncooked
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 small green pepper (finely diced)
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of tomato paste
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
Grape leaves (16 oz jar hold about 60 leaves)
1 lemon

Directions

Place the rice in a large bowl, pour boiling water over to cover it and let soak for 1 hour.Drain well.

Mix ground meat, soaked rice, onion, green pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and tomato sauce in large bowl.

Place enough grape leaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot.

This will keep the filled grape leaves from sticking to the pot and burning.

To fill the grape leaves:

Lay out a grape leaf with the vein side up.

Place a small amount of the meat and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat and to roll up like a cigar.

Continue rolling the grape leaves and laying them in the bottom row in the prepared pot,

When the first layer of grape leaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves.

Keep rolling up all the leaves and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves/or no more filling/or the pot is ¾ full.

Place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the rolls from floating during cooking and coming unrolled.

Mix together the tomato paste and water. Pour the tomato/water mixture over leaves until they are just covered.

If the leaves are not covered, add additional water until they are covered.

Add a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot

Cover the pot with a lid and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the leaves are tender.

Take out a roll from the top of the pot and test it. Place the grape leaves on a platter to serve.

Retain some of the cooking liquid to reheat the leftover rolls.

Aubergine Fetteh (Fetteh Beitinjaan)

Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a Syrian speciality.

Ingredients

3 aubergines(eggplant)
Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
Salt
2 flatbreads or pitas
500g plain yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
50g pine nuts, toasted
Salt, to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.

Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise, slice them into 1 inch chunks and place in a baking pan.

Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt.

Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.

Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until crispy. Then break it up into pieces.

In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.

Take the eggplant out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl then pour the yogurt mix on top.

When ready to serve, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.

Spiced Fish (Samaka Harra)

Serves 2

Ingredients

6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup/40g walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole fish, such as sea bream or snapper
1 bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, including the stems
1 lemon, plus ½ lemon, sliced

Directions

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, chilies, cumin, walnuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Stuff the fish with this mixture, reserving two tablespoons for later, then add a handful of coriander, saving some to garnish.

Squeeze the whole lemon over both fish, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Place the fish in a large baking pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of stuffing on top and a couple of slices of lemon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Milk Pudding (Muhallabiyeh)

This is a very light dessert that is simple and can be prepared far in advance. Syrians say the name of this pudding comes from the Umayyad Prince of Damascus, Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra. One day, the bored potentate ordered his servants to make him something different, a special pudding, and this is what they came up with using the only ingredients they had available – milk, sugar, starch and mastic. The pudding then became known as the ‘milk of the princes’, but commoners soon caught onto how simple it was to prepare and it became known amongst them as the ‘milk of the commons’. Today, people flavor the milk with a variety of spices, depending on each individual’s taste. This pudding has a smooth texture, with the nuts on top adding a crunch, which Syrians love.

Serves 12

Ingredients

1 quart/litre milk
1 cup/​200g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch/cornflour, mixed with water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose-water or orange blossom water
2 tablespoons/20g pistachios, crushed
Rose petals, to decorate (optional)

Directions
In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and sugar over low heat, stirring regularly.

Just before it boils, add the cornstarch mix and stir constantly until it thickens, then add the vanilla and rose or orange blossom water.

Once it reaches a thick consistency, pour the mix into individual bowls or trifle glasses and let cool.

Once cool, put them in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the pudding with the crushed pistachios and for extra color, rose petals.

Source: Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Published by Trapeze.


The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. This series continues with the country of Turkey.

Turkish cuisine varies across the country. The cooking of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir and the rest of the Aegean region inherits many elements of the Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, koftas and a wider availability of vegetable stews (türlü), eggplant, stuffed dolmas and fish. The cuisine of the Black Sea Region uses fish extensively, especially the Black Sea anchovy (hamsi) and includes maize dishes. The cuisine of the southeast (e.g. Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana) is famous for its variety of kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, şöbiyet, kadayıf and künefe. In the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees grow abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking.

The cuisine of Turkey’s Mediterranean regions are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Although meat-based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in restaurants and literature, native Turkish daily meals, however, largely center around rice, vegetables and bread. Dolma, rice and meat stuffed vegetables, are frequently prepared throughout the country, most often with peppers, grape leaves or tomatoes. The eggplant is the country’s most beloved vegetable, with zucchini a popular second and then beans, artichokes, cabbage, usually prepared in olive oil. Pilav (pilaf), Turkish rice, is a common filling for dolmas, as well as a common side dish. Various grains are used to make pide (flat bread), simit (sesame rings) and börek, a flaky, layered pastry filled with meat or cheese that is often eaten for breakfast.

Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialties include: lamb, beef, rice, fish, eggplant, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, zucchini and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine, and are used extensively in desserts or eaten separately. Semolina flour is used to make a cake called revani and irmik helvasi. Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, pul biber (red pepper), allspice, urfa biber and thyme. Olives are also common on various breakfast and meze tables. In Turkey ‘iftars’ (the breaking of fasts) are generally opened with date palms. “Beyaz peynir” and yogurt are part of many dishes at that meal, including börek, manti, kebab and cacik.

Turks enjoy three meals a day. Kahvalti (kah-vall-tuh), or breakfast, is generally a light meal consisting of fresh tomatoes, beyaz (salty cheese), black olives, bread with jam and honey and an occasional soft-boiled egg. Freshly baked bread and tea are almost always present. Sucuk (a spicy sausage) and pastirma (seasoned beef) are frequently prepared in the wintertime. Those in a hurry often stop at a street cart or büfe (food stand) to grab a quick börek , a flaky, mince or cheese filled pastry, or simit, a bread ring topped with sesame seeds. Muslims do not consume pork products, making bacon absent from most menus.

Öyle yemek (oy-leh yem-eck), or lunch, is traditionally a heartier (and warmer) meal than breakfast. Çorbalar, or soups, are served in a variety of ways, and most commonly include lentils and vegetables and meats. Larger lunch items include baked lamb or chicken served with peppers and eggplant, and fresh grilled fish with a side of lemon. Rice and bulgar pilaf dishes are also popular. Lahmacun (lah-mah-jun), Turkish pizza, is popular among children. It consists of a thin crust and a layer of spicy ground lamb and tomato sauce. Tost, a grilled cheese sandwich, is also popular.

Akam yemek (ak-sham yem-eck), or dinner, is the largest meal of the day. Mezeler (or mezze, singular), are “appetizers” served before the main meal. Most mezeler dishes are large enough to comprise an entire meal by themselves. Salads, soups, pilaf-stuffed fish and köfte (fried minced meatballs) can leave diners quite full. A meat dish accompanied by starchy vegetables (such as potatoes) typically follows. Seasonal fresh fruits or milky puddings are most often enjoyed for dessert.

Turks are extremely hospitable and enjoy company. They will welcome even unexpected guests with Turkish coffee. Meals are traditionally served on a large tray, placed on a low table or on the floor. The family and guests sit on cushions on the floor around the prepared foods. To avoid accidentally insulting the host, it is best to not refuse second or third helpings. It is also customary to remove one’s shoes at the door and offer a small gift to the host for their generosity.

Source: Food In Every Country

Make Some Turkish Recipes At Home

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Εggplant Spread

This eggplant dish is usually served as a dip or spread with pita bread or vegetable sticks but can also be served as a side dish to any barbecue cookout.

Ingredients

3 large, round eggplants-aubergines
100 gr of olive oil
1 lemon
1 onion
Salt & white pepper
Parsley

Directions

Chop the onion and place in 1 cup of water.

Rinse and dry the aubergines and prick them with a fork.

Bake the aubergines in the oven (375 degrees F) or on a charcoal grill for about an hour.

Remove from the heat and cool

Peel off the skin, remove the seeds, cut them in long slices and lay on a cutting board.

Mash them with a wooden spoon or a pestle.

Drain the onion well. Put the aubergines in a bowl add the onion, the salt, pepper and blend by hand or in a processor.

Add lemon and oil and whisk the mixture well.

Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.

Turkish Grandma’s Wheat Soup

(Buğday Çorbasi)

Ingredients

1 ½ cups shelled whole wheat kernels
4 cups of yogurt
6 cups of chicken broth or stock
1 egg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
Mint leaves
Aleppo pepper
Salt

Directions

Soak the wheat overnight in water. Drain well.

Place the yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth and let the excess liquid drain out for a minimum of 5 to 6 hours, or overnight if possible.

Place the wheat in a large pot with the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain the soup. If desired, puree in food processor.

Place the strained yogurt in a small pan with the egg and flour over medium heat, constantly mixing well. This will help prevent curdling.

If the mixture is too thick you can add ¼ cup of water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk it into the wheat mixture, cooking over low heat and adding more chicken broth or water if the soup is too thick.

Stir in salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

In a small skillet melt the butter and when it is hot and sizzles turn the heat off and quickly add a handful of mint leaves and Aleppo pepper to taste, mixing well. Pour in circles on top of the soup.

Mini Kebabs

Ingredients

For the kebabs
½ kg lean ground beef or lamb, minced
2 thick slices of day old bread
2 tablespoons tahini
½ clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
12 wooden skewers, soaked in water
Olive oil

For the yogurt dip
250 ml. Greek yogurt, 2% fat
1 tablespoon mint, fresh (chopped) or dried
½ teaspoon cumin
Salt, pepper

For serving
Chopped parsley
Chopped tomatoes
Mini pita breads

Directions

Soak the bread in water until completely soft.

Drain well and knead in the beef together with all the remaining kebab ingredients until you have a homogeneous mix.

Season well according to taste.

Take about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and form oblong sausage-shaped kebabs. Thread these onto the soaked wooden skewers.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to firm up.

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grates.

Brush the kebabs with olive oil, place them on the grill for 20 minutes turning frequently, until golden.

To make the yogurt dip, combine all the ingredients and season well.

Serve 2 kebabs per person, on warm pita bread topped with parsley and chopped tomatoes with the dip on the side.

Chickpea and Couscous Croquettes

Ingredients

300 gr boiled chickpeas
125 gr couscous, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, squeezed
3 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
3 onions, cut into thick slices
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mustard
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil
Rosemary, thyme

Directions

Put the couscous, chickpeas, onion, tomato, wine, soy sauce, mustard, garlic, parsley and olive oil into the food processor.

Add rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Blend the mixture. Leave in the refrigerator for at least one hour to thicken.

Shape the mixture into medium-sized round croquettes and fry them in hot oil until golden brown. Drain.

Serve with a yogurt sauce:

Mix 1 cup strained yogurt with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 finely chopped tomato, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, 1 grated garlic clove and 1 pinch each cumin and coriander powder.

Seker Pare

These traditional Turkish cookies are called seker pare which means sweet bits in Turkish.

Ingredients

300 gr flour
180 gr semolina
240 gr butter, melted
170 gr icing sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
45-50 almonds, blanched
750 gr sugar
600 ml water
½ tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 347F/175C.

Prepare the syrup. Boil the water, sugar and lemon juice for 10 minutes; allow to cool.

Break the eggs into a glass bowl, add the icing sugar and blend with a hand-held mixer for 3 – 5 minutes.

Add the melted butter, baking powder and salt and continue to mix for a further 5 minutes.

Finally, add the flour and semolina and knead until the dough becomes smooth and uniform.

Break off a piece of dough (walnut sized), roll into a ball, press the top lightly between the palms of the hands and place on a greased baking pan. Do the same with the rest of the dough.

Insert an almond into the center of each ball. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes.

When ready, remove the cookies from the oven and pour the cold syrup over.

Leave them in the syrup for 1 hour before serving.


Today’s dinner is one of our favorites. I don’t often eat lamb, but loin lamb chops are different. After siting in a marinade and then going on the grill, you couldn’t ask for anything more delicious than this. My market sells organic meats and when the lamb chops go on sale, I buy a few and put some extra away in the freezer for another day.

Red potatoes are in season in my area, so they are plentiful and inexpensive at the farmers’ markets. With the green beans, I got lucky. They are also in season but my batch came from a friend’s garden. He has quite a vegetable garden growing in a corner of his yard and he often shares some of his produce with me. Give this dinner a try, if you are in the mood. Delicious.

Grilled Lamb Chops

2 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
4 lamb loin chops, about 1 inch thick (about 2 3/4 pounds in all)

Directions

In a shallow dish, combine 4 tablespoons of the oil with the garlic, salt, and pepper. Add the lamb chops and turn to coat. Refrigerate for several hours before grilling.

Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler. Oil the grill grates. Place the chops on the grill and reserve any marinade in the dish.

Grill over high heat or broil the lamb chops for 5 minutes, basting with the reserved marinade. Turn and cook until done, about 5 minutes longer.

When grilling quick-cooking items such as chops, turn them only once.

If you leave the meat alone for a few minutes, it will have a chance to form a nice brown crust. If you move it too soon, the meat will stick, and you’ll pull off the incipient crust.

Once that brown edge forms, the meat is easy to move.

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

Ingredients

White Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk

Casserole

2 pounds (about 6 medium) red potatoes, thinly sliced
Half of a medium onion, diced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Using a whisk, add the flour and stir briskly to incorporate the flour and butter. Sprinkle in the mustard, salt and pepper.

Continue to cook for one minute over medium heat. Whisk in the milk and continue to stir, until the liquid comes to a full boil.

Constantly stir and scrape the bottom of the pan while the sauce continues to cook and thicken, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Spray a 1 ½ quart baking dish with vegetable spray. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the white sauce into the bottom of the dish.

Sprinkle lightly with onions. Arrange a layer of overlapping potatoes in the bottom of the dish.

Sprinkle with salt and half of the onions. Pour 1/2 of the sauce evenly over the potatoes.

Sprinkle with half the cheese and some of the thyme leaves. Repeat with a second layer in the same order.

Place the baking dish onto a rimmed baking sheet. Spray a piece of aluminum foil on one side with vegetable spray and place over the potatoes. Bake for 45 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and remove the foil. Continue to bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Lemon-Ginger Green Beans

Ingredients

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger root, grated
3 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

Directions

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for two minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Add lemon juice, cover the pan and steam the beans until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Besides a wide selection of spring vegetables, my market had American raised grass-fed, organic lamb on sale. Lamb is traditional for spring and it is tender at this time of year. I think lamb benefits from a simple marinade with lots of fresh herbs added. Grass-fed lamb has a sweet, clean taste with the flavor of herbs and grasses eaten on the pasture. It is never greasy and the texture is firm and tender.

One of the best ways to cook lamb chops is to grill them. They cook quickly — just a few minutes per side — and are best cooked to medium-rare, with an internal temperature of 120 degrees. Once you take the chops off the grill, let them rest a few minutes. They’ll continue to cook and the temperature will rise a few degrees.

Grilled Lamb Chops

2 servings

Ingredients

4 loin lamb chops, about 1 ½ inches thick, as much fat as possible removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 lemon, cut in half

Directions

Place the lamb chops in a glass dish with a cover. Add the oil, garlic, rosemary, oregano and black pepper. Toss the lamb in this mixture.

Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling.

Prepare an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.

Add the salt to the lamb chops and place them on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side or to taste.

Remove the meat from the grill to a serving plate and squeeze the lemon juice over the lamb. Let rest five minutes before serving.

Cucumber Yogurt Salad

3-4 servings

Ingredients

2 large cucumbers
4 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
Half a sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon agave syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions

Peel the cucumbers and cut them in half. Remove the seeds with a spoon and slice the cucumbers.

In a medium bowl combine yogurt, minced onion, garlic, dill, vinegar, agave, salt and black pepper.

Add cucumber and feta cheese to the yogurt mixture and toss until combined well.

Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Refrigerate several hours before serving.

Roasted Beets and Carrots

4 servings

Ingredients

3 large beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 sprig fresh rosemary
kosher salt and black pepper
Balsamic Glaze with Figs

Directions

Heat the oven to 375° F. Toss the beets, carrots, oil, honey, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper together in a one quart baking dish. Cover the dish with foil.

Roast for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze before serving.


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The Province of L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy.  The outstanding feature of the Abruzzo region, one that distinguishes it from Tuscany, is its three national parks and 30 nature reserves. It is why the area is known as the “green heart of Italy”. However, the province has been badly affected over the years by earthquakes, particularly the capital city of L’Aquila and its surrounding areas.

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The province is also known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with growth in the areas of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and the computer industry.

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Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy and begun to reverse its decline.

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The province of L’Aquila is dotted with ruins of ancient pagan temples and Roman settlements. A well-known city landmark (below) is the Fontana Luminosa (“Luminous Fountain”), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, that was built in the 1930s.

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L’Aquila is a good base for skiing in the Apennines. The two most popular resorts are Campo Felice and Campo Imperator. Both resorts offer routes for downhill skiing, as well as for cross country. Ski season usually lasts from December to April.

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The Province of L’Aquila often organizes open-air celebrations and folk festivals that recall the old traditions and offer the chance to taste traditional local products. Abruzzi’s cuisine is rich in local specialties, such as red garlic, sugar-coated almonds, goat cheese, lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, mortadella from Campotosto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines.

Abruzzo Food Map

Abruzzo Food Map

The famous “Maccheroni all chitarra” is amongst the best known in the Abruzzi cuisine. The pasta dough, made of eggs and durum wheat, is cut into strips using a “chitarra” (translated literally as “guitar”). This equipment is made up of a wooden frame, strung with parallel steel strands, and by pushing the sheets of pasta dough through with a rolling-pin, the characteristic shape of chitarra is obtained. Chitarra is served with various Abruzzo sauces that include: pork, goose or lamb ragout.

Abruzzo side dishes include, “sagne e faggioli”, bean soup with traditional thin pasta noodles made from flour and water, flavored with a thin sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spicy peppers. Other well-known Abruzzo dishes, include “gnocchi carrati”, flavored with bacon, egg and ewes-milk cheese. “Scripelli” crepes are served in a soup or used to form a soufflé dish and are served with a little ragout or stuffed with chicken liver, meat balls, hard-boiled eggs or a fresh ewe’s-milk cheese.

Chitarra Pasta Maker

Chitarra Pasta Maker

Ravioli can also be stuffed with sugar and cinnamon and served with a thick pork ragout. The “Pastuccia” is a stew of polenta that is served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese and “pappicci” are thin pasta noodles in a tomato sauce.

Roast lamb has several variations, such as “arrosticini”, thin wooden skewers with pieces of lamb, cooked over an open fire and often served with bruschetta – which is roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. Pecora al cotturo is lamb stuffed with herbs and cooked in a copper pot and “agnello cacio e oro” is a rustic fricassee.

easter_cheese_cake

Pizzas, from the Easter Pizza, above, (a cake with cheese and pepper) to “fiadoni” that is often enriched by a casing of pastry and filled with everything imaginable: eggs, fresh cheeses, ricotta and vegetables with all the flavorings and spices that the mind can only imagine.

The spreadable sausage from Teramano flavored with nutmeg, liver sausage from the mountains, ewe’s-milk cheeses and mozzarella cheese are all local favorites.

Traditional homemade desserts include “Ferrarelle”, aniseed wafers, “cicerchiata”, balls of fried dough joined into ring shapes with heated honey, “croccante” a type of nougat made with almonds and caramelized sugar, flavored with lemon, “mostaccioli” biscuits sweetened with cooked must; “pepatelli” biscuits of ground almonds and honey; macarons and the airy “Sise delle monache”, triangular pieces of sponge cake filled with confectioners cream; almonds and chocolate.

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Prosciutto and Fichi

The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.

Ingredients

Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller ones or in quarters if they are the larger variety). Wrap the ham and basil around the figs. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar..

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Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)

6-8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
7 lbs Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon. crushed red chili flakes
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
3 carrots, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Boil beans and 6 cups water in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Drain beans; set aside.

Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook until wilted and the stems are tender, 4–6 minutes; drain and squeeze dry.

Add 1⁄4 cup oil and the chili flakes to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Cook garlic, celery, carrots and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes.

Add the reserved beans and chard, the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the stock is slightly reduced, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.

 

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Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)

Ingredients

3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped

Directions

Warm the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot.

Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.

Press the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard the solids. Set the tomatoes aside.

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften.

Pour in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.

Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.

Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened.

Add a splash or two of water, if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot, shred it and return it to the sauce.

Note: The ragu may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

This sauce is traditionally served over pappardelle or chitarra pasta.

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Dolci: Pizzelle

Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. You can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another.

Makes about 36 pizzelle

Ingredients

1¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)

Directions

Preheat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add the anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.

Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).

Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the hot pizzelle iron and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.

Serve with your favorite toppings.

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